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Anti-poverty activists gathered at Parliament Hill to demand the eradication of poverty be a top priority. Photo by Brian Dryden

Activists want poverty at top of agenda

  • October 25, 2019

OTTAWA -- On a wet and damp October Thursday on a pathway that goes under a street in downtown Ottawa near the Rideau Centre shopping mall not far from Parliament Hill, a group of people huddled in sleeping bags and blankets to fight off the chill.

Not far from that pathway another group of people gathered at Parliament Hill on Oct. 17 to deliver a message to all political leaders in Canada that they must take the level of poverty in Canada seriously and called on whoever wins the Oct. 21 federal election to make eliminating poverty in Canada a national crusade.

“This is a very important issue that needs to be taken seriously no matter who wins the federal election,” said Willard Metzger, executive director of the Ottawa-based Citizens for Public Justice. “The level of poverty in this country is something we should not accept.”

The gathering of homeless on that nearby pathway happens as it does in most urban areas in Canada, but the public manifestation of poverty is just the tip of the iceberg and the level of poverty in Canada goes well beyond what can easily be seen.

The gathering of anti-poverty and social justice activists on Parliament Hill is an annual event to mark International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Its primary message is that the level of poverty and the inability of many in Canada to put food on their tables goes far beyond just the most visible aspects of poverty in Canada.

“Over five million people in Canada live in poverty and one in eight families (in Canada) struggle to put food on the table,” according to Chew on This!, a non-partisan cross-country campaign co-ordinated by Dignity for All, which raises awareness about poverty in Canada by engaging with people on the street, in schools, at places of worship and on Parliament Hill.

The eradicate poverty call for action in Ottawa was just one of numerous similar events held across Canada on Oct. 17 which called upon Canada’s next federal government to commit to a poverty-free Canada within the first 90 days of taking office.

“Earlier this year, we welcomed the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy as an important first step,” Metzger said of the strategy put forward by the Liberal government. “But the work cannot end there. Millions of people across Canada are living in poverty and they need action now.”

Making poverty reduction in Canada a national effort is vital for any government going forward, said Michèle Biss, policy director and a human rights lawyer with Canada Without Poverty.

“Canada is standing on a precipice, where, much like the climate crisis, we must act now,” Biss said. “By the next federal election in 2023, we will have only seven years to meet our goal of ending poverty under the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

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